With the weather still causing problems across Northern Ireland, hardy Ballymoney Blaze 1sts made the long trip to play Lisburn Lynx on Tuesday evening. Both teams were previously unbeaten in the NIVA Mikasa League, but all involved knew someone had to leave with their record blemished.
Blaze were able to field their strongest team but Lynx were without their first choice setter due to the bad road conditions in the south Armagh area. Nevertheless, both teams were confident in their abilities and the warm-up was energetic and noisy and was an excellent preview of what was to come. In a match that had it all; serving aces, immense blocks, powerful attacks, pan-cake pick-ups and last grasp defence, it was probably the most fiercely contested match of the league so far.
In the first set, both teams traded points evenly during the early part of the set, with several kills by Oshoke on the wing for Lynx and middle attacks from Blaze’s Scott keeping things even. Blaze then got their attack into gear and pulled away to open up a 4 point lead after some good defence from libero Workman. However Blaze then put numerous serves into the net allowing Lynx to get back into the game. Some thunderous blocks from Lynx middle Brettschneider, allowed Lynx to get a late lead, but again Blaze came back with some clever attacks from opposite Park. The set ended 26-24 to Blaze.
Lynx were determined not to make the same mistakes in set 2 and they did not disappoint Head Coach Chris Grant as they opened up an early lead and never looked back. With hardly a serve being missed, some clever attacks from Crooks and more wing attacks from Plinski, Lynx were not going to be beaten in this set. Blaze put up some good defence in parts of the set, but the Lynx serving and blocking was outstanding. Lynx ran out set winners 25-13.
Set 3 was another tight affair with the two teams pretty evenly matched. Lynx wing hitters Pilch and Plinski were excellent in serve reception and setter Gouveia was able to convert most passes into decent attack chances. Blaze middle attacker Surgenor also got in some good kills and setter McKnight got a few one-one-one blocks to keep Blaxe in the set. This spurred on the Blaze players and they got a few points from serve allowing them to win the set 25-20.
Set 4 was a do or die affair and Lynx got into another fine serving run opening up a 4 point lead early on. Libero Ricardo played a big aprt in this, allowing setter Gouveia to run his attack at will. Brettschneider, Pilch and Crooks all got some big kills and Lynx Captain Schaper did his bit for the team with several stuff blocks. However Blaze clawed their way back to even the set scores around the 20 point mark and from there it was going to be a tough test for both teams. Blaze wing attacker Hunter was superb throughout the game and he won several points for them at this crucial stage. With the supporters shouting loudly around the echoey hall, the noise was immense and was a great crescendo to a fine match. The set again ended 26-24 to Blaze so they ended up taking the match an immensely close 3-1.
Lynx Head Coach Chris Grant said after the match, “This was a fine display of volleyball from both teams and a lot of skill, agressiona nd passion was on display. Obviously I’m disappointed we eventually lost the match, but it couldn’t have been closer. We look forward to playing Blaze again later on in the season.”
Lisburn Lynx wish to thank the referee Tom Fabian and scorer Sabine, to Laurelhill Community College and to all the supporters present.